Published on April 16th, 2010 | by prime0
Splinter Cell Conviction – Review
Summary: A fantastic comeback for one of the Xbox’s true gaming heroes
What actually prompts a series reboot? The obvious answer is dwindling sales, but even Splinter Cell Double Agent performed very well at retail, so why the need for Ubisoft to fix what isn’t broken?
It’s as much down to creative inspiration as anything financial, surely. Ubisoft Montreal is a fiercely industrious but also defiantly progressive videogame company, one that refuses to rest on its laurels and is always trying to push boundaries. Games like FarCry 2 and Assassin’s Creed don’t come about by focus-tested committee; they come from the minds of ambitious creative’s. So when given the chance to rewrite the world of super spy Fisher, is it any wonder that they jumped at the chance?
In fact, they jumped too quickly, and the radical redesign that saw Sam with a new haircut and a penchant for crowd was ditched in favor of something a little more recognizable. And so we have Splinter Cell Conviction, a redefinition of everything, but one with enough hooks to this old life that no one should feel alienated.
A slick cover system allows Sam to dive from low wall to pillar without ever fumbling about in open ground
The main change is speed. Fisher is faster, slicker and more accurate than he’s ever been. Even during the early levels where he’s decked out in a jumper and brogues, Fisher is diving into cover and picking off headshots with ease.
This new-found speed is matched by an adjusted control system that favors daring ‘speed stealth’ maneuvers over the traditional Splinter Cell shadow lurking. A slick cover system allows Sam to dive from low wall to pillar without ever fumbling about in open ground – just aim your reticule at your desired destination and a nifty icon will then flash upon on the screen, telling you exactly where you’ll end up. Perfect.
The single-player campaign sees Fisher stuck in the middle of a WMD plot to blow up the US Government while he attempts to find his daughter’s killer. It’s fairly simple 24-lite stuff, but there’s added texture from the co-op mode, Prologue, which ties into the main game’s narrative.
Co-op sees players taking control of Kestrel and Archer, Russian and American agents respectively, whose tandem terrorist hunt explain the origins of the EMPs that end up causing all the single-player stuff. It’s a really refreshing move to find a co-op mode that actually adds to the package rather than compromising it with weakened production values. In fact, it’s actually where Conviction is at its most effective, as coordinated pincer movements really show off the advancements in enemy AI, as well as the efficiency of movement and vast improvements in control.
Taking an enemy hostage while your buddy distracts them with a well-timed bullet to a fluorescent tube, it’s a fantastically gratifying extension of the core Splinter Cell gameplay. After all, it’s always been a game about playing with AI, and now it’s possible to truly terrify the opposition in a manner similar to Arkham Asylum or Ubi’s own FarCry 2. Cruel, but hilarious.
Rounding up the impressive package is Deniable Ops, the non-story multiplayer that mixes in Horde-style survival modes with a one-on-one deathmatch, and is surprisingly effective. Sometimes you just want to hunt terrorists with the confines of a plot, and this is the perfect showcase for the purity of Conviction’s mechanics.
Which, ultimately, is what makes the game so successful. Ubisoft Montreal has managed to walk the tightrope between reinvention and familiarity with confidence and bravado. This is still very much a Splinter Cell game, it fits in with everything that has made Fisher such an iconic modern gaming character, but it’s freshened it all up, sharpened everything that had dulled over four very similar games.
Over the eight or so hours that the campaign lasts, you’ll begin to gain a new appreciation for everything Fisher can now do. You can actually achieve an incredible flow, chaining attacks and escapes without ever being truly spotted. As the game is pinned around the Mark and Execute system, where you gain the ability to automatically kill enemies by first taking one out in hand-to-hand combat. This enforces a risk/reward mechanic that takes a lot of the waiting and lurking out of the equation and places it with daring raids into highly guarded areas.
This, combined with the ‘Last Known Position’ mechanic, which leaves a ghostly outline where the guards last spotted you, means you have a marked advantage over your foes, so you can really plan your attacks, and actually incorporate being seen into your tactics.
This really is a superb package, brimming with content and ideas that belie its action gaming roots. A very welcome return.